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Melbourne Festival

The illuminating presence

Philipa Rothfield: Melbourne Festival dance

Trevor Patrick, Plasticine Park Trevor Patrick, Plasticine Park
photo Virginia Cummins
'Sweet bird, that shunn’st the noise of folly, Most musical, most melancholy.'
Milton, Il Penseroso

We, the vinyl generation, are able to recollect our personal histories through the music of our time. Particular songs remind us of periods and situations in our lives. Pivotal events become woven into the fabric of human existence: John F Kennedy’s assassination, the death of John Lennon, the aeroplanes crashing into the Twin Towers. Moments we remember as shared and personal.

Raimund Hoghe’s performative reflection on the 1960s, Another Dream, is a collage of many such moments. Evoking the social via a poetics of the personal, Hoghe quietly walks us through his account of this period. Music is used to stimulate memories and feelings, whereas words articulate his life experience. Hoghe successively unfolds himself to the gaze of the spectator, simultaneously revealing some things about time and place. His 1960s is decidedly German: it consists of post-war rubble, his sister scrubbing steps, the local cinema he frequented.

Famous songs of the 60s delineate each section of the piece, which consists of simple actions: repeated arm gestures, a reclining body waving an incense stick in time to the music, hands measuring the length of the body, walking patterns. The colour red stands out—communism, solidarity, blood. Hoghe lies down for peace beside a red t-shirt. Some sections are meditative, ritualistic, even reverential. A lacquer box of tea lights is lit, extinguished, lit, arranged, and packed away again. Spare gestures accompany poignant songs, many from singers no longer with us. Life is not a bowl of cherries.

At one point well into the performance, Hoghe carried a lantern along a pathway. This simple act provoked a perceptual shift out of ordinary time into a more epic awareness. The epic is a poetry of the heroic. Another Dream is a performative recollection of things past, a revelation of time and place and body. Its heroism is a tale of survival, of a lived body out of the ordinary, oriented towards the extra-ordinary. This moving work is meticulously crafted and performed. Hoghe is utterly present within his work in a way that gives it a dignified clarity. The last image in Another Dream is of Hoghe’s buckled back facing the audience, his head supporting a small box of shifting sands. The box is illuminated. The world is dark but also illuminated.

Superficially, Balletlab’s latest work, Nativity, is also about a moment in personal history—choreographer Philip Adams’ childhood. Its opening look is every bit as good as David Lynch’s picket fence in Blue Velvet. A select audience is welcomed by our maitre d’—Adams resplendent in brown velvet suit. His house is a faux cabin/home, furnished with a selection of Australian objects, circa 1960. We are treated to some horrible biscuits (Iced Vovos, I believe) while Adams gives us a tour of his collectibles.

But don’t be fooled. This is not a trip down memory lane. From the iconic twee of 60s suburbia to the mementos of Adams’ childhood, there isn’t a scintilla of expressivity about this work. Nativity is a postmodern autobiography. It lacks any sense of the biographical. A woman enters the house and hangs her coat. Is she Adams’ mother? We neither know nor care. She is a Stepford wife, her absence is palpable. The walls of the home open onto an Aussie backyard, a tiny Hills Hoist twirls in the background. A toy Spanish bull from Adams’ past is our portal into a bullfight scene: the girls are toreadors, the boys are bulls. A reference to childhood initiates some backyard roughhousing using Adams’ familiar group choreography where people anonymously throw each other about on a tarpaulin. They fold, twist and turn with ping-pong timing.

Stuffed rodents, moose and marsupials jerk on and offstage. They exhibit the same deadpan as the dancers. We are enticed into a climax of vacant spirituality: one dancer is a Snow White character surrounded by a manger of stuffed animals. Somehow this leads into an offstage UFO sighting and the deliverance of a sort of saviour.

Nativity is very funny. It is imaginative and creative. Adams’ presence as our tour guide and some inspired animal grooming make the piece work as quirk. Two areas could be improved: the dancers are required to use their faces very carefully, way beyond the usual demands of contemporary dance. I think some skilful direction would assist, to help the performers work out what attitude to adopt in the various scenes and the overall tenor of the piece. Secondly, the dancer’s relationship to objects could similarly be further nuanced. There is often a touch of subject/object cross-dressing in his work—objects are animated, whereas humans are evacuated of human emotion. How are those stuffed animals to be handled and moved? How should the various inanimate objects be animated? Whatever the answers here (puppetry skills?), their development would give a greater edge to the bent humour that animates Nativity, encouraging its eccentricities and enhancing its insanity.

Lucy Guerin’s Plasticine Park is a much more modern dance piece. A collaboration between Guerin and 4 visual artists, Plasticine Park, consists of 8 scenarios that juxtapose dance and the moving image. Some segments are humorous, some naturalistic, some video-arcade and some otherworldly. The naturalistic works (David Rosetzky) are accompanied by a kitchen sink monologue by 2 young things (Kirstie McCracken and Kyle Kremerskothen). Although (perhaps because) they were everyday, these sections had some interesting choreographic moments: movement found on a rug or with a chair. The more imaginary Create Grid (by Stephen Honegger) was a very geometric piece whose corresponding choreography was equally directional. It was precisely executed by Brett Daffy who has an admirable ability to move with mercurial fluidity. Polygon Jungle, also by Honegger, looked like it inhabited the colourful universe of video games, sporting the meanderings of a queer bunny (Shona Erskine). Laresa Kosloff’s 2 pieces were cartoons that documented the travails of wannabe athletes. Guerin’s comic responses drew upon the lexicon of the gym and running track to create a narrative, faithfully rendered by Trevor Patrick and Rebecca Hilton.

Patricia Piccinini’s images were the most disturbing. Her imaginary compositions of human bodies recalled the stark realism of documentaries on surgical procedures. Blood bubbled, swollen organs emerged and mutated. Sally Gardner performed a meticulous series of hand and head movements with a rhythm and quality that matched Piccinini’s alien landscape of the flesh. In a final sweep, Stephanie Lake cut through space to the last of Piccinini’s corpulent imagery. This was the most poignant section though I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because Lake seemed more exposed than the others, closer to the audience. Plasticine Park was a “degustation”, an aesthetic series of tastings coupling food (dance) and wine (image). It afforded the opportunity to see the breadth of Guerin’s kinaesthetic imagination in response to a series of artistic constructions, designed to stimulate the palate.

Another Dream, Raimund Hoghe, CUB Malthouse, Melbourne, October 22-25

Nativity, Balletlab, choreographer Phillip Adams, designer Bluebottle, performers Joanne White, Ryan Lowe, Brooke Stamp, Toby Mills, Rachel Ogle & Phillip Adams, Dancehouse, Melbourne, October 13-35

Plasticine Park, director, choreographer Lucy Guerin, visual concept Lucy Guerin & Patricia Piccinini, performers Brett Daffy, Shona Erskine, Sally Gardner, Rebecca Hilton, Kyle Kremerskothen, Stephanie Lake, Kirstie McCracken, Trevor Patrick, visual artists, Stephen Honegger, Laresa Kosloff, Patricia Piccinini, David Rosetzky, music/sound design, Paul Healy, ACMI Screen Gallery, Melbourne, October 11-25

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 6

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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